Friday, January 2, 2009

Product of Mexico

“Product of Mexico.” Those three words, when affixed to food products, scare me.

Spending Christmas with friends means coming home with a platter of food, the kind of stuff I rarely, if ever, prepare for myself. In this case, it was a huge portion of standing rib, along with a salad of mixed greens and three, colorful, sweet peppers. I ate the rib and salad the next day, but could not help wondering about the place of origin of the greens. As per the peppers, there was no doubt about where they were grown. Each one wore a sticker bearing those three, ominous words, “Product of Mexico.”

I love peppers, especially red, sweet peppers.
But knowing that supermarket peppers are likely to have a high pesticide content, gives me pause. I often raise my own peppers, cut them into strips and freeze them. These, I eat without thought of chemical contamination. Mexican peppers, though, are suspect. Mexico lacks our strict laws governing agricultural practices.

So I washed the beautiful, giant peppers that my friends had given me and I washed them again. And even with that, each, crunchy mouthful conjured pictures of some field in Mexico, with people walking about, spraying any number of toxic chemicals on the produce. It’s an image that won’t go away.

In this brave, new world of instant messaging and international trade, an unbelievable number of products that Americans consume originate in places like China, Korea and Mexico. But consumers find themselves between the proverbial rock and hard place. American-grown, organic produce is way overpriced. This leaves the budget-conscious shopper with only one choice…buy the foreign stuff, take it home and wash it and hope for the best.

All this brings me back to my own, particular situation. I rarely buy vegetables because I not only raise my own, but also harvest and put up wild veggies. The quality of my own produce is beyond question, as is that of wild, edible plants. And best of all, nothing in my freezer or in my canned food shelves bears the title, “Product of Mexico.”

Anyone can follow my example, at least to some extent. All of us have access to wild edibles. A vacant, city lot, for example, can hold an amazing variety of useful, wild plants. And anyone with access to the southern sky can plant a few veggies, even if that means doing so in containers. There is always a way.

With just a little effort, we can all say “No” to “Product of Mexico.”

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